Monday, January 19, 2009

In Search of Blogging Ethics – Starting Points

Low life scumbags have been stealing blog posts for a long time. I remember finding one of my videos surrounded by ads for a violent movie. Thing was I think I had recorded a peace march. You think that advertiser got his money’s worth?

When I e-mailed the person asking him to take down my video he replied that since he was outside of the U.S. American laws didn’t apply to him. It was on the Internet and it was free so why should I be upset? Since he had ripped off a number of people eventually he was convinced of the error of his ways.

By the way, if you are reading this entire post inside of another blog that isn’t on BlogHer or Out On The Stoop and there are advertisements around the post you should know that it is straight up theft.  What got me started on this post was that I can’t stop thinking about J.D.’s post over at Get Rich Slowly on How Much Money Would It Take for You to Compromise Your Principles? What is fascinating to me is that there were people who honestly did not see a problem of posting without disclosure of a post being an advertorial. They would have taken the money and not blinked an eye.

When I use a term like low life scumbags it is because some foul lump of meat is ripping off post from the blog Mother’s with Cancer and presenting it as their own work. There are other words I would like to use. 

Ethics, people! We have to have ethics or as Crosby Stills & Nash taught us, “You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by. And so, become yourself, because the past, is just a goodbye.” If you don’t want you visitors leave you in the dust you need to brush up on matter of ethics.

What Are Ethics?

I started out looking for a definition of ethics. There isn’t just one. It does depend on who you ask. I started with Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The field of ethics, also called moral philosophy, involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior.

I tried the dictionary approach: the philosophical study of moral values and rules. Ok so ethics is the study of morals? What are morals? Motivation based on ideas of right and wrong. I swing back over to another philosophy encyclopedia at Stanford University and they have over 601 sub-sections on every kind of ethics imaginable.

Thank goodness for the BBC. They actually have a very clear understandable seven page section on What Is Ethics? for their Region and Ethics portal site:

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that covers a whole family of things that have a real importance in everyday life.

  • Ethics is about right and wrong
  • Ethics is about rights and duties
  • Ethics is about good and bad
  • Ethics is about what goodness itself is…

My understanding of ethics is the instructional code that is placed inside of you by your parents, culture, environment and dozens of other societal reference points that help you make good or bad decisions. As an added bonus your emotions, wants and needs play a substantial part in creating your code.

As we get older and join different communities and cultures, that code of right and wrong gets tested, altered and sometimes quietly smashed for the sake of a greater payoff/reward. However if there is core foundation of “ethics” of what is or isn’t the right thing to do then you might not be swayed so quickly to the dark side.

Ethics in Blogging Past and Present

In 2002 Rebecca Blood of Rebecca’s Pocket wrote one of the first posts on blogger ethics. Although others certainly have written about blogging ethics and have attempted to set up a blogging code of honor this was a thoughtful attempt to help bloggers do the right thing.

Later in 2003 also tried to quantify ethical blogging behavior:

Bloggers should be honest and fair in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Bloggers should:
• Never plagiarize.
• Identify and link to sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
• Make certain that Weblog entries, quotations, headlines, photos and all other content do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

I am not a journalist, I am a writer and blogger. But there is some overlap in terms of being responsible, honest and transparent. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has its own Code of Ethics that I learned about in a seminar held by the SPJ in June of 2008. It was a bridge and an opportunity for journalists to share what works and what bloggers should be aware of when blogging in public:

Never plagiarize. (You really can’t say that one enough, don’t steal other people’s work.)
— Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
— Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
— Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
— Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
— Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.

Kate Trgovac at My Name is Kate clearly states what she will do and what she expects from visitors. Kate does tell you that she is a marketer and understands the needs of both sides but that does not mean you get to run a game on her:

This is my blog.  I write about stuff that interests me.  Sometimes that includes my clients.  And sometimes that includes stuff that has been sent to me for free as a review or evaluation copy. 

I will ALWAYS disclose if I am blogging about a client.
I will ALWAYS disclose if I have received a product for free.

Some bloggers like Karen at Good Dog Owners vs. Bad Dog Laws keeps her ethics simple, she will not disrespect people, period.

So, in conclusion, I would suggest that you start thinking about what you would and would not do in regards to your blog. There is no one answer but there are things that are flat out wrong. If you have questions drop them in the comment section.

This post originally appeared on BlogHer where I am a Contributing Editor.

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